"In recent years the majority...
"In recent years the majority of historians have come to the conclusion that 'blitzkrieg' was not a form of warfare invented by the German military, but an old method of winning decisive battles using new technology."
-Online definition of blitzkrieg
It was difficult not to have even the slightest bit of skepticism when we arrived at the fabulous Autódromo Internacional do Algarve racing circuit located in the hills near Portimau, Portugal for the international press launch of BMW's new S 1000 RR literbike. The venerated Bavarian manufacturer has built a long-standing reputation for bikes that-while solid performers in their own right-were never really quite as aggressive as the latest supersport tackle from the Japanese (and some Italian) manufacturers. Much of this was due to BMW's penchant for incorporating different and often unusual ideas in some portion of the motorcycle's design, a hallmark of the Bavarian manufacturer.
The S 1000 RR represents a watershed of sorts for BMW. It's the first "conventional" sportbike for the company, in that the engine is an inline-four with chain drive nestled in a twin-spar chassis using a standard inverted cartridge fork and single linkage-equipped rear shock. The usual alternative designs in engine and chassis are absent this time for the most part; no boxer twin engine, Telelever or Duolever front end, Paralever shaft drive, etc. BMW engineers were quick to point out that many of those ideas were considered during the S 1000 RR's design, but ended up being dropped due to the compromises they would have imposed on the end result-which was to have the absolute best performing literbike on the planet.
Going straight up head-to-head with the established supersport brands for the first time is a tall order, and one fraught with incredible risk, especially for a manufacturer with a long and storied racing history like BMW. "This is a very important motorcycle for BMW," said BMW Motorrad USA vice president Pieter de Waal. "If it fails to have performance that is at least directly comparable to the Japanese, BMW's reputation as a motorcycle manufacturer will be tarnished." No excuses this time around; the S 1000 RR's purpose is undeniably clear. And failure is not an option.
The S 1000 RR's saddle is...
The S 1000 RR's saddle is wide and supportive while being narrow in the front to allow easy reach to the ground despite its somewhat tall seat height. Passenger accommodations are typically Spartan.
The Race ABS and Dynamic Traction...
The Race ABS and Dynamic Traction Control can both be disabled via the grey "ABS DTC" button to the left of the red hazard flasher button. Toggling through the various menu items on the dash display is easily accomplished with the "trip/lap/set" toggle switch.
The S 1000 RR's conventional...
The S 1000 RR's conventional cast aluminum frame and pressed-sheet/cast aluminum swingarm aren't very flashy, but they don't have to be. The detachable rear subframe is also made from conventional square aluminum tubing to ease repair or replacement.
"When The Green Flag Drops..."
We've already covered the voluminous technical details of the S 1000 RR in a previous issue ("First Look-BMW S 1000 RR", September '09) and you've probably been inundated with info from other channels, so we won't waste time rehashing all of that tech talk here. The burning question of whether the new BMW is going to measure up is surely on everyone's mind, so let's get right to the riding impression, shall we?
All of the S 1000 RR test bikes at the international press launch were equipped with the optional Dynamic Traction Control and Race ABS, which are entirely worth the extra $1480 (read on and you'll understand why), plus the Gearshift Assistant powershifter ($450). The BMW DTC has four riding modes-Rain, Sport, Race, and Slick-that can be easily accessed (on the fly if desired, although it requires that the throttle be closed and clutch pulled in) via a button on the right handlebar switchgear with the modes displayed on the dash's central LCD panel display. "We named the last two modes 'Race' and 'Slick' because we didn't want owners confused about the respective traction control and throttle settings," said Stefan Zeit, project manager for the S 1000 RR. "We wanted to ensure that owners understood that 'Race' and 'Slick' were primarily meant for the race circuit. For example, we couldn't use 'Race 1, Race 2' or something like that, because it could be confusing. 'Race' obviously signifies high limits, but 'Slick' is easily understood as racetrack only." The Slick setting requires that a special plug be connected underneath the seat, further reinforcing that the owner understands just what he is unleashing; our bikes had the plug installed.
The S 1000 RR's dash is well...
The S 1000 RR's dash is well designed, with a white-faced analog tach with clearly defined numbers that are easy to read at a glance. The adjustable shift light is properly positioned to be easily spotted when looking ahead, and all the information is easily accessed via buttons on the handlebar switchgear, meaning you don't have to take your hands off the bars.
We rode much of the first session in Rain mode (which limits power to "only" 150 horsepower) because we were new to the Portimao circuit and needed to learn our way around, but also because we wanted to see just how the setting behaved. The BMW is equipped with a gyro sensor that detects how far the bike is leaned into a turn, and BMW engineers informed us that the system in Rain mode prevents acceleration at lean angles greater than 38 degrees. We found that to be true for the most part; rolling on the throttle at the apex of a turn at aggressive lean angles in the dry resulted in much less acceleration than you ask for until you begin picking the bike up. In fact, you can feel the increase in acceleration as the lean angle decreases, which made for some fun in trying to get as much power as early as possible by picking the bike up right off the apex. Nonetheless, the throttle response and power are neutered significantly, which quickly became old on a dry track; we're looking forward to seeing how it works in the wet back home.
Sport mode definitely livened things up, with a much better throttle response and full 193-claimed-crankshaft-horsepower levels restored. The traction control max intervention lean angle is backed off to 45 degrees, so there's a lot more acceleration available everywhere. With the most oversquare engine configuration in the class, we assumed that the BMW was going to give up a little midrange acceleration to its competition, even with the variable-length intake system and various exhaust valves. But the S 1000 RR exhibited a strong midrange lunge from 7000 rpm on up, surprising us with its ability to pull strongly off slower corners in second gear in this rpm range.
But best of all, here is where we were able to fully experience the fruits of the BMW engineers' undoubted hard labor in developing and producing their highest output engine ever. Prior to this press launch, we'd ridden a modified Japanese literbike that we dynoed at 163 rear wheel horsepower; our butt dyno easily puts the S 1000 RR at around the mid-170-horsepower mark. No hyperbole, no BS-the BMW really felt that strong. Put it this way: heading onto Portimao's front straight is a pavement rise taken in fourth gear, and the RR would try to snap into a vertical wheelstand if it wasn't for the wheelie control cutting power when the wheel speed sensors determined that the front wheel was slowing down. Power continued strongly well up a bit past 13,000 rpm, with the redline set at a stratospheric (for a literbike) 14,200 rpm.
Actually, the wheelie control in Rain and Sport mode can be a bit overbearing at times, especially in the lower gears where unintended lofting of the front wheel is most prevalent. With the Portimao circuit's roller-coaster elevation changes, the front end gets airborne quite often in second and third gear, and in these situations the power retardation quickly drops the front end back to earth, only for full power to swiftly return and hoist the front end back up again. The literal pogo-sticking over many sections of the Portimao circuit soon became annoying.
Not only does the BMW have anti-wheelie control in the front, it also has a system for the rear. The ABS system in Rain and Sport mode detects if the rear tire has become airborne and quickly decreases front brake pressure to settle the chassis. The aggressive braking that becomes the norm at the racetrack triggered this system often, but when activated, there is no pulsing through the lever and its action is fairly transparent, even though lever feel still goes a bit numb. Both the DTC and ABS can be turned off if desired, allowing wheelies at both ends if that's your thing.
Of course, we were at the racetrack, so it was appropriate to switch to Race mode. It was easy to see why this setting is meant for the racetrack; the throttle response is much more aggressive than in Sport mode, and a skilled hand is necessary to keep from upsetting the chassis in the slower corners. Midrange acceleration is stouter, and the amount of rear wheelspin permitted by the DTC in this mode is generous enough to let you get away with minor slides, but still keep you well within limits; with the maximum intervention lean angle increased to 48 degrees, you can get much more aggressive on your cornering and exploit the traction of your tires a lot more before the DTC steps in. Speaking of which, we were just as impressed with the Metzeler Racetec K3 rubber that was fitted to the bikes at Portimao (BMW reps stated that USA-bound models will be randomly equipped with three brands of tires; the other two weren't specified at press time). Besides excellent grip and wear rates that handled all-day racetrack thrashing very well, the Metzelers offered dead neutral steering characteristics at all lean angles along with their quick turn-in manners.
The wheelie control feature is dialed back a notch, so there was much less of the pogo-stick effect over the track's many rises and drops. The ABS in Race mode is likewise pulled back to allow much more aggressive braking maneuvers, with the intervention threshold raised quite a bit, and the rear wheel lift feature disabled. Needless to say, the amount of speed that can be generated in this mode really does relegate its use to the racetrack in all but the most skilled (and self-controlled) hands.
This steering damper hidden...
This steering damper hidden inside the fairing helps quell any headshake tendencies. Definitely necessary, considering how much the BMW likes to loft the front wheel.
The four different Riding...
The four different Riding Modes can be accessed via the grey button above the starter/kill switch. There is no need to take your hands off the bars to access any of the vast information available on the dash.
The BMW Race ABS system only...
The BMW Race ABS system only adds 5.5 pounds, and considering its excellent performance, is well worth the additional weight and cost. The red plug just behind the fuel tank is the activator for the Slick riding mode.
With so much performance on tap in Race mode, you'd think there couldn't be much more to be had with Slick mode-guess again. Throttle response in this mode borders on belligerent, requiring that the rider have his cornering plan done well in advance, and that he be committed to that plan. Any tentative or sloppy throttle inputs are only rewarded with a choppy and muddled ride through the corner. The DTC max intervention lean angle is expanded to 53 degrees, which is cranked over pretty far; if you want much more acceleration at that point, you should probably take a serious look at racing. The rear wheel slip control level is likewise extended overall, and the amount of tire spin allowed at moderate lean angles is very generous-enough that even an expert rider must work hard to fully engage the traction control.
In fact, it's at this point where the benefits of the BMW's well-developed traction system are fully realized-and where the debate about traction control in racing is founded. The DTC allows you to hang the rear end out just enough to pivot the bike and keep it there without requiring precise throttle control, and the S 1000 RR continues driving off the corner hard. It's basically electronic cheating, although it should be remembered the DTC is not a fail-safe; get it wrong, and you can still end up on your head. And it's no band-aid for poor chassis and suspension setup-if your settings are off, all it will do is keep you from going slower.
The Slick mode will allow wheelies-to a point. As long as you aren't leaned over more than 23 degrees, it won't intrude on the proceedings. But it will only permit the show to last for five seconds, at which point it reminds you that forward progress is better made with the front wheel in contact with the pavement.
Following the same progression with the previous riding modes, the ABS system is pulled back further as well, with the intervention threshold raised substantially. We were able to get the system to engage just a few times in Slick mode, and that was only during very aggressive braking. The rear ABS system is disengaged, allowing the rider to use the rear brake to help back the rear end into a corner if desired. As with Race mode, the rear lift-off detection is system is also disengaged.
The white/blue/red WSBK paint...
The white/blue/red WSBK paint motif looks nice, but it's a $750 option.
Enabling all this racetrack aggression is a chassis that offers the same competence as the engine and electronics. While the Portimao circuit's young age meant that the pavement was still relatively smooth, the BMW still demonstrated excellent stability in all situations we could put it through. One area that especially stood out was during very aggressive braking in Slick mode; the stout 46mm Sachs fork and relatively conventional cast aluminum twin-spar frame keep the S 1000 RR stable, with very little of the twisting and movement that can be felt on some other machines. Although not quite as agile and lithe-steering as the Honda CBR1000RR, the BMW still is quite light on its feet, requiring little effort to initiate or change lines in a turn.
Speaking of the Sachs fully-adjustable inverted fork, both it and the similarly-adjustable Sachs rear shock (itself sporting high- and low-speed compression damping adjustment in addition to rebound damping and spring preload) performed superbly, providing excellent wheel control and tire feedback while still maintaining a good amount of compliance despite being set up for the track. A nice touch on both components is the clearly defined and simple adjustment positions on all the damping adjusters. There are 10 possible settings for every damping adjustment, with easy to see markings on each; no more requiring careful count of 30 or so clicks (that have little effect unless they're adjusted in groups of four or five) on an unmarked adjuster with the BMW.
The fully-adjustable Sachs...
The fully-adjustable Sachs rear shock has clearly-defined and simple adjustment gradations, easing the task of suspension dial-in (note both the high-speed compression damping adjustment arrow on the shock body, as well as the arrow on the flat-blade screw head for slow-speed compression damping). With only 10 steps in each damping adjustment, making a change and noticing a difference is much easier. Note also that reversing the cam-shaped upper shock mount allows ride height adjustment at the rear.
Radial-mount Brembo calipers...
Radial-mount Brembo calipers biting on 320mm discs (mounted directly to the wheels, saving precious grams) provide outstanding stopping power, augmented by the well-sorted Race ABS system. Stout 46mm Sachs inverted front fork's action was excellent.
Like the Yamaha R1, the BMW's...
Like the Yamaha R1, the BMW's gearshift linkage runs through the frame. Our press launch bikes were equipped with the Gearshift Assistant (GSA) powershifter, which worked well, although we'd prefer just a tad quicker ignition cut times. Swingarm pivot height is also adjustable.
In fact, the S 1000 RR reflects a lot of thought on BMW's part to ensure that all the controls are easy and intuitive to use. The white-faced analog tachometer with bold, clearly defined numbers is easy to read at a glance, the well-positioned shift light (adjustable for rpm, brightness, and flashing) is easy to spot, all the handlebar switches and buttons are easily discernable and operable with gloved hands, etc. The vast amount of info that can be recorded and gleaned from the BMW's ECU (all manner of lap dissection via the optional beam transmitter, including last, fastest, best lap freeze, lap number, all-time best, percentage of time at full throttle or brakes, minimum/maximum speed, number of gearshifts) is easily accessed through a simple, intuitive menu-again, no having to press a weird combination of buttons or sequences, just an easy, straightforward method that can all be accessed without having to take your hands off the bars. Who'd have thunk it?
All this scattered griping about the "controversial" styling from some quarters is nothing more than trivial mutterings in my opinion, especially in the face of the BMW's astounding performance. While I respect that long-time BMW designer David Robb's intention was to "break the mold" of current sportbike design, the S 1000 RR's styling doesn't seem that avant garde to me, and is just fine in my book. Besides, I find it difficult to look at a bike's bodywork while I'm riding it.
Upsetting The Apple Cart
It's impossible to not be impressed by BMW's first legitimate entry into the literbike supersport class. To use the same basic engine configuration as the Japanese left the company with no excuses-direct comparison would be inevitable, so its performance had to be up to par at the very least. Anything less would be considered a failure.
We don't think BMW should be worried about that last part. We do think, however, that the competition should be. They had better bring their absolute "A" game when the inevitable comparisons begin. The S 1000 RR is that good-believe it.
2010 BMW s 1000 RR
(price as tested with Race ABS, DTC, GSA: $15,730)
Other than its highly-oversquare...
Other than its highly-oversquare bore/stroke configuration (the largest bore size in the literbike class), the BMW's inline four-cylinder engine appears fairly conventional. Its power output is anything but.
Type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC inline four
Bore x stroke: 80.0 x 49.7mm
Induction: BMS-KP EFI, single-valve 48mm throttle bodies, dual injectors/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec K3
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Metzeler Racetec K3
Rake/trail: 23.9 deg./3.8 in. (95.9mm)
Wheelbase: 56.4 in. (1432mm)
Claimed wet weight: 449.7 lb. (204kg); 455.3 lb. (206.5kg) with Race ABS
Seat height: 32.3 in. (820mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gal. (17.5L)